Libya and Mali: Forever Linked Together

Over the last two decades The United States (US) and it Western allies have believed that strong armed dictators who suppress democratic freedoms threaten the free world’s collective interests. If it is believed that a anti-democratic government possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD) then the West believes that there is an urgency to bring about a change “for the better.” This political strategy and foreign policy goal appears to be grounded in noble and libertarian ideas that call for a universal respect for human rights.

The US and its coalition partners presented to the world a strong case that Saddam Hussein was in possession of WMDs. There was no doubt that he governed by suppressing all democratic rights. He was considered a threat to Western interests. What seemed to have gotten lost in the West’s policy analysis and strategic planning leading up to the second Iraqi war was the fact that Iraq was a counter-balance to Iranian influence in the region. Also the despotic Iraqi regime suppressed the very radical groups that spawned terrorists and terrorism ideology that has been unleashed on the West. Not withstanding American Presidents trumpeting the West’s accomplishments in Iraq, our strategic interest would have been better served if we left Saddam Hussein in power. Iraq today  is worst off than before the removal of Hussein. Iranian influence has grown as a result Hussein’s downfall. Iran’s exportation of political and economic power now threatens the stability of the entire Middle Eastern region and beyond.

I do not believe that the US and its Western allies learned the most important lesson from the Iraqi wars; the fight to impose democratic principles on foreign countries and their citizens might be against our long-term strategic interests.

Mali is a landlocked West African country that gained its independence from France in 1960. According to the CIA’s World Fact Book a large section of the country’s northern region is engulfed by the Sahara desert. Mauritania and Algeria sit on Mali’s northern borders with Libya to the east of Algeria. Mali was formed when Senegal withdrew from the Mali Federation. Rule by dictatorship finally came to an end in 1991 when a military coup ushered in a period of “democratic rule.” The West considers Mali to be one of Africa’s successful democratic experiments. I do not believe this to be the case.

In 2011 political instability and Islamic extremism took root in the northern part of the country. The political experts and theorists ended all speculation as to why and how Islamic extremism found its way into northern Mali. It is now believed that Western military action in Libya directly contributed to Mali’s current struggle with radical Islamists. The French military recently began offensive military operations in its former colony to eradicate the Islamist militant threat.

James Blitz in a blog post in the Financial Times, January 14, 2013, draws a connection between the toppling of Qaddafi and the spread of Islamic extremism and instability in Northern Mali. In his piece entitled “Will the West Regret Toppling Qaddafi ” Mr. Blitz raises the distinct possibility that France, Britain and the United States might have acted against their joint and individual strategic interests. Nearly two years after the downfall of the Libyan strongman many commentators question the wisdom of having brought about the collapse, through military intervention, of the Qaddafi regime. The post pays enough respect to the humanitarian reasons why these nations believed it was necessary to do something in Libya. Still, it is argued that NATO’s decision to use its vastly superior air power to force the Qaddafi government to collapse lead to the rise of Islamist extremism throughout the region. Given recent events in Northern and sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East this conclusion that the fall of Qaddafi has had unintended consequences seems to be true.

“However, there are good reasons for arguing that the rebels’ rise to prominence in Mali was a direct result of NATO’s decision to topple Qaddafi in 2011.” To support this position James Blitz refers to Paul Melly’s post in Chattam House  which is part of a piece entitled “The World is Full of Surprises ” The posts deal with events of the past year that were not accurately predicted as possible occurrences. Mr. Melly’s piece is appropriately entitled “ Qaddafi’s Guns Trigger Collapse.” According to Mr. Melly (and many others) the collapse of Qaddafi:

“…triggered the sudden return to Mali of the thousands of Tuareg fighters that Libya had recruited since the 1990s. The disintegration of the dictator’s security forces flooded the Sahara with weaponry easily affordable by Al-Qaeda and its allies who were flush with income from drugs trading and hostage ransoms”

I always believed that the Qaddafi regime mysteriously gave up fighting rather than having been completely defeated. Apparently the mercenaries who long supported Qaddafi government decided to return to their home countries with whatever  weaponry they

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